Farmers’ markets play an essential role in the food distribution network, similar to traditional grocery stores.
Consumers depend on farmers’ markets for fresh, local foods, and vendors depend on them as an outlet through which to sell products. Keeping these markets open while maintaining public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic is a priority — evidenced by California’s designation of farmers’ markets as essential spaces amid a statewide shelter-in-place and the continued operation of some New York farmers’ markets.
However, markets must implement proper precautions and amend their more social practices. Farmers’ markets have traditionally allowed farmers to socially engage with consumers. At this time, farmers’ markets must shift solely to providing essential spaces for people to purchase fresh, local food.
Initiating sensible changes, communicating those clearly to customers and vendors, and considering online options as applicable will increase the likelihood that markets can stay open to the general public. The goal is to ensure public safety, promote the purchase of local foods and support local farmers and economies at a challenging moment.
This guide helps farmers’ market managers and boards navigate uncertain times by offering:
- Best practices related to communication, social distancing and preventing contamination.
- Alternative market arrangements to consider.
- Online resources that could potentially allow market sales to continue amid restrictions.
Please note that regulations are subject to change amid fluid developments in the COVID-19 pandemic response. Also, consult the links throughout the article for more information and review the Resources at the bottom of the article.
To minimize the potential spread of COVID-19, market managers and boards should:
- Reiterate that if anyone shows any signs of illness, they should not attend the market.
- Advise those attending the market in any capacity — customer, vendor, worker, volunteer — to wash their hands before arriving and upon returning home.
- Rent portable hand-washing stations to place throughout the market.
- Create hand-sanitizer stations and ensure that all vendor booths at least have hand sanitizer.
- Increase the frequency with which staff will disinfect surfaces/objects throughout the market.
Vendors should also take the following precautions for interactions, pricing, payment and bagging:
- Discontinue customer sampling unless samples are pre-packaged from a commercial kitchen.
- Prevent customers from touching products they are not purchasing for themselves.
- Round prices to the nearest dollar to avoid the need for coins in making change.
- Encourage credit-card transactions whenever possible.
- Limit human contact with products by bagging them for customers.
- Consider pre-packaged options for faster checkout times and crowd reductions.
- Split duties for payment and bagging between two different people.
- Alternately: Bag products first, then handle payment, and then wash or sanitize hands.
- Vendors should wear disposable gloves to avoid contamination and/or touching their faces.
- Change disposable gloves whenever changing tasks.
- For example: Do not handle money and then handle products using the same gloves.
- Alternately: Assign one person to handle money and another person to handle products.
At this time, social distancing is necessary to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. This may not be an issue for smaller markets, but larger markets will need to plan ahead and communicate changes with customers.
Market managers and boards are advised to:
- Promote social distancing by enforcing a 6- to 10-foot space between vendor booths.
- Discontinue events that encourage gathering, such as kids’ corners or musical performances.
- Eliminate, or cordon off, any seating and eating areas.
Additional logistics can encourage social distancing and prevent community spread.
- Devote the first 30 minutes of market hours to elderly or immunocompromised customers.
- Recommend that shoppers leave at least 6 feet between themselves at all times in the market.
- Designate only one entrance and only one exit to the market.
- Limit traffic to one customer per vendor booth at a time.
- Implement time limits for customers at each vendor booth.
- Encourage customers to prepare advance shopping lists to reduce shopping times.
- Ask customers to remain in their vehicles if lines begin to form.
- Request that customers leave after they have completed their purchases.
Maintaining regular, informative contact with customers and vendors is the best way to successfully implement any new procedures or policies.
- Post signs asking customers to practice social distancing and not touch products they aren’t purchasing.
- Use social media and newsletters to promote vendors, their products and updated policies.
- Recommend that all market attendees follow CDC recommendations on minimizing the community spread of COVID-19.
There is a significant chance that farmers’ markets as they have been traditionally set up could be postponed or potentially canceled. Now is the time to consider alternatives for selling products.
One idea is a drive-thru market — in which customers pick up orders from their vehicles, which limits both contact with others and their time at the market.
Here is how such a market could work:
- The market master creates a menu tab on the farmers’ market website.
- Customers view products and place orders via Google Forms (or other online form).
- Pickup times are designated for customers, who stay in their vehicles during pickup.
- Volunteers pass out orders to customers while following all CDC handwashing guidelines.
In this scenario, the market is still able to accept payment through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Vendors can also implement online ordering through their sites — using the farmers’ market as a pickup location for pre-packaged products.
Amanda Baird, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Tipton County
Karen Mitchell, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Tippecanoe County
Tyler Neier, Danville Farmers’ Market Co-Master / Neier Farms and Produce, Danville, Indiana
Nathan Shoaf, Purdue Extension Urban Agriculture State Coordinator
Heather Tallman, Indiana Grown Program Director, Indiana State Department of Agriculture
Laurynn Thieme, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Delaware County